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Child Care Access

Written by Dr. Sarah Anderson
Published on October 25, 2022
Research Highlights

There are not enough child care workers or facilities to meet demand.

The lack of affordable child care options negatively impacts job opportunities, especially for women and low-income families.

States have employed a variety of policies to improve child care access, but there are limited studies looking at how specific approaches affect access.

Child care access depends on the availability of qualified workers and facilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted child care for 93% of working families in Missouri; about 1 in 3 could not access any child care providers [United WE, 2020 & 2021].

  • In June 2020, 94 out of 115 Missouri counties were child care deserts, meaning that there were significantly more children than licensed child care slots [Child Care Aware, 2020; United WE, 2020].
  • For a detailed list of the Missouri counties with the highest and lowest access to child care spaces, see United WE, 2020 [p.26].

The capacity of licensed facilities. 27% of families use child care homes or centers [US Chamber Foundation, 2021]. There are 57 child care slots for every 100 children whose parents work [Child Care Aware, 2020].

  • From 2018 to 2022, around 1,300 child care facilities closed down resulting in 10,000 fewer child care slots statewide (DESE, personal communication, Sept. 20, 2022).
  • During the pandemic, facilities that stayed open had lower enrollment and operated at 50% capacity [Child Care Aware, 2020].

Recruitment and retention of qualified child care workers. Missouri requires that child care facilities have at least one teacher for every ten children over two years old; state law requires one teacher for every four children under two (5 CSR 25-400). As a result, a small number of families are primarily responsible for subsidizing teacher and facility costs [Build Initiative, 2021].

Wages, facility-specific standards, and waiting periods for background checks can influence who is willing and able to fill these positions.

  • The mean hourly wage for child care workers ($12.41) and preschool teachers ($17.54) in Missouri is lower than the statewide average ($24.71) [BLS, 2021].
  • State law requires that child care workers be 18 years old and pass both a background check and a tuberculosis test.
    • Waiting periods can limit the pool of applicants to those who can wait up to two weeks to be hired.

Individual facilities may choose to require additional educational qualifications, such as elated courses, degrees and/or credentials. While additional training can increase teacher quality, facilities are not required to increase salaries for this experience [CCSA, 2022].

Limited child care access disproportionately impacts working mothers.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 31% of families said child care issues slowed their return to work and limited other employment opportunities (Figure 1) [US Chamber Foundation, 2021].

  • Women and low-income families were more likely to no longer be working, move from full-time to part-time, or not accept a job due to child care issues [US Chamber Foundation, 2021].
  • Parents who work non-traditional hours may also have difficulty finding child care [United WE, 2021].

The cost of child care can equal or surpass parent salaries.

  • The average Missouri family spends about 8% of their income on child care.
  • Infant and toddler care costs families about $500 per month for home-based infant care and about $800 per month on average for center-based care [United WE, 2020; Child Care Aware, 2020].

There is limited data on how state policies affect child care access.

Child care access is determined by several factors e.g., social networks, income, state policies, and employer benefits. Most studies are focused on establishing a basic picture in terms of access, quality, and affordability of child care [Child Care Aware, 2020]. Therefore, it is unclear how specific policy decisions will impact child care access especially due to the varied reasons for limited child care access.

Common policy options that states can use to increase access to child care include:

Supplemental Table 1 highlights examples of state and federal approaches to improve child care access.

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